Social Entrepreneurship Network Deutschland e.V. (SEND) was founded in 2017 as an association to represent the interests of the social enterprises in Germany. It is a national network of social enterprises that provides social enterprises with a voice to advocate for policy, financial support mechanisms and increase awareness about social entrepreneurship among policy makers, within the mainstream economy and civil society. Given the absence of a German federal structure administering social entrepreneurship, in 2016 SEND began as the first working group at the federal level as Federal Association of German Start-ups (Bundesverband Deutsche Startups eV). To create awareness on social enterprises, SEND wrote a position paper for German policy makers using inputs from over 200 social enterprises. Ever since, SEND became a structured network representing the interests of over 700 members across Germany.
SEND connects social entrepreneurs with the policy makers at the federal and the sub-national levels and helps develop position papers for the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Germany. Thanks to SEND, numerous social entrepreneurship actors across Germany can now collaborate with political actors to tackle problems and drive forward policy developments.
Social enterprises are developing in a variety of sectors across Germany to develop solutions for pressing social challenges. However, social enterprises often face challenges to be successful due to the lack of political awareness thereby becoming a barrier to draw support from the existing structures. In particular, the absence of financial support at the federal level and the extensive administrative procedures required to secure public grants add to the barriers. Additionally, as in in many other countries, German social enterprises face challenges created by the lack of suitable legal forms and sufficient awareness of the positive impacts of social enterprises. SEND aims to strengthen social enterprises through networking and by representing their interests at a political level while facilitating their development at federal and sub-national levels.
This case study highlights how social economy actors can join forces in order to have a united voice when communicating with policy makers. SEND also offers a good opportunity for various actors to share their findings and building a culture of regular consultations with the policy makers. This model is also relevant for policy makers as it facilitates structured dialogue with the community of social entrepreneurs.
SEND has four main goals: 1) it creates a network for the social enterprises, social entrepreneurs and experts at federal and sub-national levels and builds bridges to other sectors of economy and welfare; 2) it advocates for more suitable policies and recognition with policy makers on federal and sub-national levels; 3) it creates visibility for social entrepreneurs and their innovative solutions; and 4) it aims to professionalise the social entrepreneurship ecosystem.
In order to achieve its goals, SEND establishes and nourishes contacts with a variety of policy makers often coming from various ministries and creates a culture of collaboration and mutual learning around the subject of social entrepreneurship.
One major project that contributes to almost all of the main goals is the German Social Entrepreneurship Monitor (DSEM), a sizeable study on the ecosystem in Germany. In 2018, DSEM surveyed 210 social enterprises and founders in an attempt to map the social enterprise and social start-ups in Germany and gather more evidence regarding their operations, potential and challenges. In 2020, almost 450 social enterprises participated. DSEM is instrumental in providing Federal-level policy recommendations for the development of social innovation strategy, indicating the need for better financing opportunities, a suitable legal form for social enterprises and proposing an increased number of social innovation centres. The findings from DSEM were helpful for policy makers in designing their strategies following the COVID-19 crisis and were an important part of the European Social Entrepreneurship Monitor survey.
SEND has successfully networked with over 700 members ranging from ideation to growth-stage social enterprises, social entrepreneurs, funding organisations and civil society. Of which, 268 are private and sponsoring members such as early-stage social entrepreneurs, social intrapreneurs inside organisations, and academics that further the social enterprise agenda in Germany through their participation. Furthermore, SEND has a network of 12 supporting member organisations that are not necessarily social enterprises themselves but support potential of this sector. The network has also developed numerous contacts with hundreds of policy makers and is part of working groups and expert policy dialogues on social entrepreneurship in the 10 regional groups, to further the development of the social enterprise fields in Germany.
Another concrete outcome of its advocacy work has been the development of a specific programme for Social Entrepreneurs by the BMWi (Federal Ministry of Economy) with a volume of EUR 130 million. The programme is expected to start in 2022.
As a result of its continuous efforts over the last four years, topics regarding social entrepreneurship and social innovation have been integrated in almost all coalition treaties on sub-national levels. In preparation to the general elections in Germany in 2021, all relevant parties mentioned the need to support social entrepreneurship in various fields in their electoral programmes.
- Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe. Country report. Germany: Publications Office of the European Union (2018).